Monday 25 February marked the beginning of the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which will be held between 25 February and 22 March, at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva. During the session, high-level discussions will be held on various human rights related issues, such as the right to privacy, rights of persons with disabilities, rights of minorities, and rights of children.
The UNHRC holds three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least ten weeks. They take place in March, June, and September. If one third of the member states requests so, the council can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies.
Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon addressed the session on 26 February, highlighting the British Foreign Office 2019 campaign to champion media freedom.
“Mr President, media freedom plays an essential role in protecting all other human rights and freedoms. A free media helps people form their own opinions, and it holds governments and corporations to account. It is a vital foundation for any healthy democracy. That is why journalists should be free to do their jobs without fearing for their safety,” he said.
He continued: “Yet in many parts of the world, the statistics tell another story. Indeed, according to Reporters Without Borders, 2018 was the most dangerous year on record to be a journalist. 80 were murdered, 348 imprisoned and a further 60 taken hostage.”
The centrepiece of the UK campaign will be an international conference co-hosted with the Canadian government in London on 10 and 11 July where journalists, civil society and governments from around the world will gather and highlight the urgency of the issue of media freedom, mobilise a global consensus and share best practice.
During the opening high-level segment several dignitaries spoke about human rights violations across the world and the deterioration of respect for human rights, the Council’s role in promoting human rights worldwide, as well as challenges that multilateralism had been facing, and the responsibility of States to address these problems through cooperation.
Anders Samuelsen, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark, lamented that human rights and liberal freedoms were under pressure around the world as Denmark took a seat in the Human Rights Council for the first time ever.
“At this time, it is vital to stand up for the rights of people everywhere. The Council plays an important role in this regard. The Council’s most important task is to deliver on its mandate. It is crucial that the work of the Council makes a difference on the ground,” Samuelsen declared.
So far, the session has included discussions on human rights defenders and on torture; the right to food and the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights; women human rights defenders and on the death penalty, in particular with respect to the rights to non-discrimination and equality.
UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst presented his annual report on the situation of human rights defenders to the Human Rights Council, emphasising how women human rights defenders are facing increased repression and violence across the globe.
“In the current political climate, in which there is a backlash against human rights, women who defend and promote rights are often the first to come under attack,” said Forst.
Among the topics scheduled for the days ahead are a full-day meeting on the rights of the child, an interactive debate on the rights of disabled people as well as sessions on the situations in Myanmar, Syria and Iran, among others.